Here are our up-to-date guides of family films to watch and keep the whole family entertained!
With cinemas closed for national lockdown, Let’s Go With The Children will keep you up to date with what you can see via streaming and Video on Demand sites.
The below film guides are written by Mike Davies especially with families and kids in mind. Everything from small scale films to great blockbusters for all the family PLUS trailers for upcoming films! Please note that not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.
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Wonder Woman 1984 (12A)
The biggest superhero movie of 2020 is undeniably good fun and comes with a solid moral message about truth and greed but is far less satisfying than the 2017 original. Directed once again by Patty Griffin, it starts off in impressive form with the young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing against older Amazonian warriors in a contest on Themyscira, only to be disqualified for ‘cheating’ by taking a short cut to her objective and not following the rule of truth as aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) explains. The story then shifts to 1984 Washington as the now grown Diana (Gal Godot) makes one of her anonymous appearances foiling a jewellery store heist clad in her distinctive red, blue and gold costume with her golden lasso of truth.
As it turns out, the thieves were after the shop’s back market artefacts which once recovered by the FBI are taken to the Smithsonian where Diana Prince works in her civilian guise. Here she meets new employee Dr Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a socially awkward, nerdy anthropologist/geologist wallflower whom she befriends and who is assigned the job of identifying her objects. One, in particular, catches Diana’s attention, a quartz-shaped gemstone that is infused with the power of the Old Gods and can reputedly grant wishes. The only wish Diana has is that her boyfriend WWII pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), didn’t die when he sacrificed himself in the first film….And what do you know, attending a lavish function, she approached by some handsome mystery man whose body, she’s astonished to learn, has been occupied by Steven although she’s the only one who sees him as such. All is wonderful. Except, of course, it isn’t.
She’s not the only one to have wished upon the gem. Minerva has wished to be more like Diana; she meant in terms of confidence and grace, unaware that, wish granted, it also comes with superpowers. More crucially, there’s Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), who, promising “everything you’ve always wanted” in his TV ads is a con artist with bad hair operating a company called Black Gold that turns out to not have the oil promised its investors and is on the verge of collapse. He’s been chasing the Dream Stone for years and, as the museum’s latest sponsor, has persuaded the besotted Minerva to loan it to him during a fundraiser, whereupon clearly a big subscriber to the greed is good theory, wishes he himself was the gem, appealing to others’ basic instincts and granting their wishes, from Saudi Arabia to the White House, in return for taking on their wealth, power, etc., to become the master of the world.
A villain empowered by a magic wish-granting object is a cheesy comic book plot device more appropriate to fairy tales (or indeed the horror story The Monkey’s Paw) and the ‘be careful what you wish for as it comes at a cost’ message is hammered home.
There’s some amusing comic fish out of water scenes as Steve adjusts to the technology and fashions of the 80s, the introduction of the comic book’s invisible jet and some breath-taking action set pieces such as an increasingly depowered Diana in a road chase with armoured cars in the Egyptian desert. Plus, a couple of showdowns with Minerva, one in the White House in which she does not come off well, and one, rather more ho hum, clad in golden armour from Amazon history. But, while Gadot remains a perfect choice as Wonder Woman (who, of course, is never referred to as such in either film) and the chemistry between her and Pine is palpable, both Wiig and Pascal both ramp up the scenery-chewing performances (though, to be fair, she’s not as foamingly over the top as he is). The film, with its often clunky dialogue, rarely makes a strong emotional connection (though it does all, ultimately, pivot on a parent’s love for their child) and, shoehorned between lengthy character-based scenes, the excitement is disappointingly intermittent.
Given the current climate, the message about light triumphing over the dark is certainly welcome and uplifting, as is the moral about being true to yourself and putting those around you first. Dedicated fans of the character should hang around for a not entirely surprising mid-end credits cameo, but, while entertaining enough the screenplay’s sense of actual wonder is somewhat thin on the ground. 151 mins (Video on Demand from 13th January )
Directed by Pete Docter, this is up there with the very best of Pixar’s animation, a film which, like Inside Out and Up, offers different levels for both children and adult audiences with its cocktail of absorbing narrative, physical comedy, emotional depth and profound intelligence as it addresses, basically, the meaning of life.
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a bespectacled, New York middle-school music teacher with dreams of being a jazz piano player like his father, much to the disapproval of his seamstress mother who just wants him to get a job with security. As fate would have it, both opportunities come on the same day. He is awarded a full-time post at school and, thanks to an old pupil, also gets to audition tinkling the ivories for jazz saxophonist star Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). She offers him a place with her quartet for that night’s jazz club show, but, as he is walking home, high on happiness, he falls down a manhole and finds himself quite literally, on a stairway to heaven, although here referred to as the Great Beyond. It is an inter-dimensional realm managed by shape shifting incorporeal beings which look like that 2-dimensional Cubic drawings and are called Jerry (variously voiced by, among others, Alice Braga, Wes Studi and Richard Ayoade), whereas yet unborn souls are assigned personality traits at the You Seminar before earning their spark, or purpose, that will give them a pass to begin a life on Earth. Mistakenly assumed to be a mentor, Joe is assigned to 22 (Tina Fey), a troublesome soul in waiting with a voice “that annoys people “who, despite the best efforts of Mother Teresa, Copernicus and Gandhi, has no desire to be born at all or transition to Earth. However, with Joe’s body in a coma in hospital, he is determined to return and, with the help of a Moonwind (Graham Norton), an astral plane pirate captain soul whose human body is aged hippy guru sign spinner on Earth, he does. However, 22 gets accidentally dragged along and Joe ends up in the body of Mr. Mittens, the therapy cat, while 22 is in his. Now, 22 discovering living is not as terrible as she’d imagined, the reluctant buddies must embark on an existential fish-out-of-water quest to switch their souls before 7pm so he can play the gig. Meanwhile, soul counter Jerry (Rachel House) finding himself one soul short, is on Joe’s trail to fulfil his quota.
Echoing elements of What Dreams May Come as well as Pixar’s own Wreck It Ralph, it’s a spellbinding film, funny and moving by turn, filled with wonderful set pieces. Rich with a seamlessly integrated jazz score (Joe’s talent for improvisation serving him well away from the piano too), it’s as vivid in detail and colour as it is profound in its philosophising on what constitutes the essence of our very soul as well as pointed observations such as “You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for!” In a virtual Disney heresy, as Joe comes to learn his true talent might be as a teacher not a musician, it also says that, sometimes, achieving your dream might not be all you hoped for. But that, as Soul so poignantly observes, is what life is all about. 100 mins (Disney +)
Space Dogs: Return To Earth (U)
Perhaps the best thing you can say about this, the third in the dubbed Russian animation series about two canine cosmonauts, is that it’s energetic. Exhaustingly so at times. In the middle of a mission to retrieve samples from one of Saturn’s moons, where Strelka has accidentally awoken some monster that shoots icicle spears from its mouth before being rescued by crew mate Captain Belka (who being female is naturally in the capsule doing her make-up), they’re ordered to return to Earth and investigate an anomaly in the Atlantic Ocean just off Cuba. With Belka demoted and Strelka promoted, they’re swept up into a giant whirlpool, and, plunged underwater, discover a plot by two aliens to steal all of the planet’s water. They’ve just three days to stop them. Not easy when their spaceships destroyed and they’re taken prisoner by singing Rastafari jellyfish pirates.
Fortunately, help is on the way in the shape of their rat friend Lenny (looking suspiciously like Remy from Ratatouille) and his cricket apprentice who has come to Cuba and, in a mix up, team up with a big-bottomed female rodent who swings a mean suitcase.
I doubt very much whether any of its young audience will get the reference to Marx and Engels, but then, while colourful and with some inventive touches (a space garden tended by an alien green elephant-hedgehog hybrid, only parents scraping the bottom of the lockdown barrel are likely to be planting their kids in front of this. 80 mins (Cinemas)
Black Beauty (PG)
Written in 1877 by British author Anna Sewell under the title Black Beauty: His Grooms and Companions, the Autobiography of a Horse, originally intended for adults but now one of the top ten children’s novels, the anthropomorphic story has seen many screen adaptations. The latest shifts the setting from Victorian England to the contemporary American West and gives the mustang gender makeover, but retains the book’s horse’s-eye-view narration, the voiceover provided by Kate Winslet.
Told in flashback, it follows the horse from its years as a foal, roaming the plains with her mother before her curiosity leads to the herd being rounded up by rustlers, her mother never seen again, and kept in a shabby corral, eventually her being sold to New York horse whisperer John Manly (Iain Glen), who runs the financially struggling Birtwick Stables. He struggles to break her, but he has another wilful problem on his hands in the form of his moody, orphaned teenaged niece Jo (Mackenzie Foy), who isn’t thrilled at being dumped with an uncle she barely knows.
Inevitably, where Manly fails, Jo bonds with the horse over their shared loss and broken spirit, who she names Beauty, the pair sharing each other’s company before an accidental fire burns down the stables, throwing the ranch’s future and that of Beauty into doubt. A deal is struck whereby Jo will work for her uncle’s boss, to earn the money to buy the horse, but then Georgina (Fern Deacon), the cruel, snotty daughter of the upper-class Winthorp family, chooses Beauty to be leased to her. Manly persuades them to allow Jo to become their tenant and work with the horses, where she falls Georgina’s kindly older brother George (Calam Lynch), much to his snobbish mother’s (Claire Forlani) disapproval and Beauty finds her friend Ginger is now George’s horse.
As the story continues, following an incident at the estate gymkhana and with Birtwick closing down, Beauty ends up being sold before Jo can say goodbye, and the film limps through Beauty’s subsequent life, working first for a ranger on his rescue missions, then for a farmer as his workhorse, then a kindly carriage driver in New York where she again meets Ginger and, finally, another carriage company which illegally sells the horses before, eventually, she and Jo are reunited, the stables are successfully rebuilt and Jo and George work as a married couple rehabilitating horses.
It’s a warm, happy ever after ending, but unfortunately much of everything that proceeds it is dramatically flat, taking forever to get to Beauty’s post-Jo adventures which are perfunctorily and quickly cantered through. The messages about family, friendship, loyalty, and being kind to animals are clearly spelled out and there are some tender scenes between horse and girl, but it never really gets beyond a gentle trot as it moves from one episode to another while the low key performances rarely summon the necessary spark. It looks nice and its target audience of equine-loving young girls will be satisfied, but a little of Beauty’s self-described wild spirit wouldn’t have gone amiss. 110 mins (Disney+)
The Spongebob Movie – Sponge On The Run (U)
Bypassing cinemas to go straight to streaming and download platforms, the third Squarepants movie finds the irrepressible SpongeBob (Tim Kenny) living happily in Bikini Bottom with his pet snail Gary, hanging out with bozo starfish pal Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and working alongside grumpy octopus neighbour Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), serving up crab patties for Mr Krabs (Clancy Brown) and the Krusty Krab.
However, tyrannical ocean ruler Poseidon (Matt Berry), who live in the garish Lost City of Atlantic City, needs snail slime to keep his green skin soft and supple – and he’s just used up his last one. So, looking to finally get his hands on Mr Krab’s secret formula and realising SpongeBob is the cause of all his failures, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) snailnaps Gary, prompting SpongeBob and Patrick to set off to find him in carboat driven by a cantankerously self-willed robot invented by squirrel Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence), winding up with them as Poseidon’s prisoners and facing public spectacle execution. Which, of course, is when their friends pile in to the rescue.
Featuring assorted flashbacks recounting how the friends all first met each other, like the previous films it mixes animation with live action cameos, here Snoop Dog who gets to do his thing during a Wild West dream sequence zombie dance routine in a cowboy saloon run by El Diablo (Danny Trejo) and an inspired appearance by Keanu Reeves dispensing generally unheeded wisdom and advice as Sage from inside a tumbling tumbleweed.
Exploding with colour, it is, of course, incredibly silly, but also very funny and packed with sly throwaway jokes with everyone (the voice cast also includes Awkwafina) clearly having a great time and, of course, an upbeat message about the importance of friends and finding our inner courage, entertaining the kiddies while ensuring chuckles for the grown-ups too. 95 mins (Netflix).
The Witches (PG)
Thirty years on since Anjelica Houston vamped her way through Jim Henson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s tale, co-written by fantasy horror supremo Guillermo del Toro and Back To The Future director Roger Zemeckis, this casts its own remake spell, staying faithful to the book but injecting a couple of new spins. This time around, set in late 60s Alabama, the unnamed ‘hero boy’ orphaned in a car crash is a young African-American (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno), who goes to live with his grandma Agatha (Octavia Spencer) who plays and dances along to Motown hits to try and cheer him up and also tells him stories about witches, who loathe children, have no toes, claws not hands and are bald, including how, as a child, her best friend was turned into a chicken.
Her grandson having encountered a witch in a supermarket, the pair take off to a plush seaside hotel for “rich white people,” (Stanley Tucci more restrained as the manager played by Rowan Atkinson in the original) only to find it’s hosting a convention by The Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children, a cover for a witches’ gathering where the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) reveals her plan to doctor sweets with a potion that will turn children into “miiiiiiice” so they can squish them. Hiding under the stage with his pet mouse, Daisy, the boy is witness to this and sees chubby greedy Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) transformed before he himself is sniffed out and suffers a similar fate. Managing to escape with the help of Daisy (Kristin Chenoweth) who turns out to be another victim, the trio now has to get to Agatha, who is a healer with her own potions, so that, together, they can find a way of stopping the dastardly plan.
Bookended by narration by the now older rodent boy (Chris Rock) telling the tale to a group of kids, it’s a fast-paced romp that makes excellent use of prosthetics and CGI as a gleefully over-the-top Hathaway hovers in the air and has her face distort into a Joker-like grin while speaking in an accent that mangles German and Scottish together.
At times genuinely scary for younger viewers with witches exploding and the three mice running through the hotel vents trying to escape the Grand High Witch’s ever extending arms, unlike the previous film it also sticks to Dahl’s bittersweet ending about inevitable mortality, but adds a montage of their America-hopping witch hunts, this is gleeful frightening fun. 106 mins (Amazon Prime; Sky; Virgin Movies)
The Secret Garden (PG)
The seventh big-screen adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 English children’s literature classic, screenwriter Jack Thorne (who adapted His Dark Materials) expanding the backstory and delivers a more dramatic climax, but this still feels a bit of a charmless slog, the characters overshadowed by the visual effects, and the performances often feeling like a throwback to the days of the Children’s Film Foundation.
Opening with a prologue set in India on the eve of partition, her parents dead and abandoned by the servants, 10-year-old Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx, recently seen in Summerland) finds herself shipped off to England become the ward of her hunchback uncle, Archibald Craven (Colin Firth with a very annoying floppy fringe), the cold, no-nonsense widower of her mother’s sister, at Misselthwaite Manor, is brooding estate on the Yorkshire Moors, and under the strict supervision of joyless housekeeper Mrs. Medlock (Julie Walters).
Initially something of a brat with a sense of entitlement, Mary eventually makes friends with the ethnic housemaid Martha (Isis Davis) and, while playing outdoors, encounters a Yorkshire terrier she names Jemimah, and discovers a hidden garden behind overgrown walls. In turn, she chums up with Martha’s wild-haired younger brother, Dickon (Amir Wilson), who she takes into the garden where a friendly robin leads her to the location of a hidden key.
Meanwhile, ignoring instructions to remain in her part of the house, she’s also discovered Colin (Edan Hayhurst), her equally spoiled and bossy cousin who has been confined to bed by his father, who rarely visits him, and is apparently unable to walk on account of some genetic spinal condition. Suffice to say, they gradually become friend and she and Dickon secretly wheel him out of the house into the garden, where its restorative powers do their business.
The garden, of course, has its own secret, as this was the favourite spot for the two sisters and their youngsters, and where Colin’s mother died, his grief-struck fathers sealing it up and subsequently locking way any memories of his wife, his son included.
A film about grief, healing, friendship, family, and the power of nature, it’s visually strikingly impressive and colourful, the William Morris-style floral design of the wallpaper in Mary’s shadowy room (which secretly adjoins that of her late aunt) patently foreshadowing the real thing later and also prompting one of several, rather jarring, flights into her imagination. The introduction of the ghosts of both Colin’s mother Grace (Jemma Powell) and her sister Alice (Maeve Dermody), who also figures ignoring her daughter in several flashbacks does little to enhance to narrative or evoke the emotions intended.
Egerickx is engagingly energetic and charismatic, even when being petulantly privileged, so it’s unfortunate her fellow child actors are so flat and dull, while Walters rarely registers as more than a dour cameo and Firth, despite saving grace final moment of epiphany, is all one-note and lacking his usual spark. Nice flowers though. 99 mins (Sky)
Unless you live in China you can, at least for the time being, only watch this latest Disney live-action remake on a home device. Even so, magnificently directed by Niki Caro, its spectacle and majesty shine through.
Working from the 1998 animation as well as the Hua Mulan legend on which that was based, but minus the song and, thankfully, the sidekick dragon (though there is an ever-present phoenix, the family’s totem, climaxing in a particularly striking visual moment), it opens with the young Mulan (Crystal Rao), living with her younger sister Xiu (Elena Askin), flapping mother (Rosalind Chao) and lame war hero father (Tzi Mah), practicing her martial arts skills much to dad’s pride and mum’s annoyance who reckons she should act like other girls and bring honour to the family as a dutiful wife.
Fast forward several years as the now teen Mulan (Liu Yifei) unintentionally causes havoc as the village matchmaker is trying to teach her grace and deportment, at which point an emissary from the Emperor (Jet Li) arrives to inform that each family must supply one man to join the army in fighting against the marauding Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) who, abetted by a powerful shape-shifting witch (Gong Li) is laying waste the country in revenge for the death of his father at the Emperor’s hands.
Having no son, despite his injured leg and failing health, Mulan’s father offers himself as a recruit. However, fearing for his life, she steals his sacred sword and armour and, disguising herself as a boy, rides off to join the Imperial Army under the name of Hua Jun. Then, following an assortment of impressive combat training scenes and her determined efforts to not be revealed as a girl (the punishment for which would be death or, at best disgrace), as Khan sweeps all before him, the film builds to its exciting climax as she finally casts off her disguise, accepts her true self and becomes the legendary warrior who saves the Emperor and China.
Her first leading role in a major film, Liu is the film’s heart and soul, struggling with the deception she is practicing but also tapping into her inner chi to become the warrior events need, the moment she emerges from the mist, her hair let down and flowing, is a breathtaking scene. She’s well served by an impressive support cast too, headed up by Donnie Yen as the high ranking Commander Tung, her cadre of fellow soldiers (and often comic support), the hapless Cricket, Ling, Yao, Chien-Po and, most importantly Chen Honghui (Yoson An) who serves as Mulan’s eventual ally and romantic interest. Lee makes for a powerful, driven, and resourceful villain while Gong Li shines as the ambiguous sorceress – and Mulan’s dark counterpart who seeks to have her join forces – whose motivations underpin the film’s misogynistic themes of men’s fear and suppression of powerful women.
Glowing with an emotional depth to match its electrifying combat scenes, which involve twirling in mid-air, running up walls, and other acrobatic feats, it’s an exhilarating and involving spectacle likely to induce cheers in the living room demanding that you see it on the biggest screen going at the earliest opportunity. 115 mins (Disney +)
My Spy (12)
Following in the footsteps of fellow wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson, Dave Bautista continues to show he can mix action and deadpan comedy to hugely entertaining effect. Here he’s JJ, a former Special Forces soldier now with the CIA who, after his tough-guy actions blew a mission and let a bad guy escape with one-half of the means to build a nuclear weapon, is teamed with hero-worshipping tech support Bobbi (Kristen Schaal) and assigned the lowly surveillance job of watching the Chicago apartment belonging to Kate (Pariza Fitz-Henley), the widow of a dead arms dealer, murdered by his terrorist mastermind brother Marquez. Unfortunately, JJ’s cover is quickly blown by Kate’s precocious nine-year-old, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), who, capturing everything on her phone, threatens to expose them unless, friendless and bullied at school, he agrees to take her ice-skating. It doesn’t end there, proving easily able to outwit him, he’s then blackmailed into being her school show and tell buddy and even teaching her the tricks of the spy trade. And, of course, she’s soon setting him up as a prospective romantic interest for mum, loner JJ learning once again how to relate to people and get in touch with his feelings. At which point, the nuclear plotline resurfaces when Marquez comes calling.
While ostensibly pitched at tweenies, a witty nod to Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark and the gunplay action clearly have an adult audience in mind too, the comedy appealing to both with some frequent laugh out loud moments as well as sly genre spoofs such as JJ teaching Sophie how to walk away from explosions in slow motion. Bautista and Coleman share brilliant chemistry and comic timing, succeeding in mining the kid and surrogate dad sentiment without drowning in schmaltz. A reteaming would be very welcome. 99 mins (Amazon Prime)
Artemis Fowl (PG)
Originally planned for a 2019 release, then postponed, this adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s first of his eight Artemis Fowl novels about the teenage Irish anti-hero now bypasses cinemas altogether to debut on Disney +. It doesn’t arrive trailing exactly enthusiastic reviews, but despite its many faults – among them some wooden acting, clunky dialogue, and anonymous direction from Kenneth Branagh – it ends up being quite fun, at least for the target audience.
Of course, Colfer fans will doubtless complain that it’s got ahead of the series and, rather than the 12-year-old criminal mastermind in the original first few books, young Artemis (a somewhat stiff Ferdia Shaw) is already the plucky hero he becomes later, but really that’s neither here nor there and the film does nod to that by having the elder art dealer Artemis (Colin Farrell) being accused of being an international thief whose been stealing precious artifacts from around the world and storing them in his remote clifftop sprawling mansion where he lives with his son and bodyguard Butler (Nonso Anozie) and, brought in for added protection (even if she vanishes from the plot for long stretches and doesn’t really seem to do much), Butler’s niece Juliet (Tamara Smart).
Well, yes and no. He has, but in order to protect the world from dangerous magic. You see, he’s apparently the only human who knows of the existence of a subterranean fairy world populated by trolls, goblins, dwarfs, and the like, from which he’s stolen something called the Aculos to prevent it from being used by dark forces to destroy all humans and dominate fairydom.
He’s also been teaching young Artemis (initially coming across as a bratty whiz kid) all about leprechauns and the other fairy legends as if they were real which, when dad disappears (abducted by some mysterious hooded figure who wants the Aculos to do exactly what I mentioned above), he quickly learns it is when, after subduing rampant troll marauding through a wedding (all humans put into a time freeze in the process and then mind-wiped), young (well, 84 years is teenage in fairy years) LEPrecon operative Holly Short (a perky elfin Lara McDonnell), the daughter of the late supposed traitor Beechwood, a friend of Fowl Sr who helped purloin the Aculos, disobeys orders and winds up his captive.
This prompts the LEPrecon Commander Root (Judi Dench dressed in lime green, sporting elf ears and speaking like she has gravel in her throat) to time freeze Fowl Manor and send in the winged troops to rescue her and find the Aculos in the process. However, having bonded, Artemis and Holly are now working together to find where dad’s hidden it and rescue him.
All of this is told in flashback by giant dirt-eating dwarf digger Mulch (Josh Gad) who’s being interrogated by some sort of British secret service and who also plays a major role in the battle at the manor.
The obvious influences, chiefly Men in Black (Artemis dresses in a black suit and wears shades), Harry Potter (Mulch as surrogate Hagrid) and Star Wars (Farrell’s captor akin to Palpatine), do it no favours by comparison, but despite some confusing transitions, it rattles along quickly enough to keep its target audience distracted and the visual effects are definitely impressive. Like the ill-fated The Golden Compass 2007 adaptation before it, it ends setting up the main characters for the next stage in the adventure. That never saw light of day, but, perhaps Disney’s new streaming platform may yet give Fowl a fair chance of magicking up a franchise after all. 93 mins (Disney +)
On Disney +
After two live-action features, Mystery Inc. returns their cartoon origins for this latest computer-animated update of the long-running TV series about four ‘ghost’ hunters and their canine companion. It starts off with an origin backstory about how misfit scaredy-cat loner Norville aka Shaggy (Will Forte) and talking (well, lisping really) Great Dane Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) become friends (following a beach chase after the pup steals a kebab meat roll) and, indeed, how Scoob gets named (after a pack of Scooby Snacks) before the pair encounter dreamboat Fred (Zac Efron), people person Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and brainbox Velva (Gina Rodrigues) one Halloween, expose Mr Rigby’s fake ghost and Mystery Inc is born.
There are some amusing ironic lines such as about never going into haunted houses again and a montage of adventures before, launched by a cameo from an animated Simon Cowell who won’t bankroll the team unless their weakest links are let go, the plot per se sets in. At which point the film does a DC Universe flip and turns into a Hanna-Barbera crossover, introducing other TV show characters starting with superhero Blue Falcon (Mark Whalberg), or rather his preening, not so brave son Brian, his robot sidekick Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons) one of the Teen Angels from Captain Caveman (who, voiced by Tracy Morgan, himself turns up later).
It seems that attacked by a bunch of munchkin killer bots in a bowling alley, Scooby is a crucial part of a scheme to recover three dog skulls and unleash Cerberus, the three-headed dog, the villain of the piece being none other than Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs) of Wacky Races fame all of which has to do with his long-missing partner-in-crime, Muttley, as the action moves first to Mystery Island before coming to a climax in Athens.
Rattling along from one loosely connected scene to the next, Daphne, Velva and Fred taking something of a back seat until towards the end, it’s not entirely coherent and the different characters don’t really fit into each other’s universe. Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had for younger vans while some knowing one-liners and references are thrown in for the grown-ups too. 94 mins (Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play)
The latest outing from Pixar may not reach the emotional heights or inspired storytelling of the Toy Story series, but, even so, it’s still leagues above its rivals in the family animation stakes. It takes a familiar and well-tested coming-of-age scenario about chalk and cheese siblings learning to work together and understand each other as well as dealing with loss and hurt and gives it a fantasy setting in a world where magic once ruled but has fallen into disuse with the rise of technology such as lightbulbs and planes. Now unicorns scavenge in New Mushroomton’s dustbins and dragons are family pets.
Directed by Dan Scanlon the protagonists are elfin brothers Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland), an awkward, insecure teenager overshadowed by his extrovert stoner-like metal-head older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), a snarky role-playing fantasy gamer and history nut who believes the games are based on old realities and drives a battered van he’s dubbed Gwniver. Together, they live with their outgoing widowed mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who’s dating macho centaur cop Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).
On Ian’s 16th birthday, mom presents him with something left by their late father (Scanlon lost his own father when he was one and has no memories of him), which turns out to be a wizard’s staff, a gem and instructions on how to bring dad back to life for a day. Naturally, Barley assumes he has the necessary magic powers, but it turns out that they actually run in Ian’s DNA. Unfortunately, he’s not quite up to the task and the spell falls apart midway, leaving dad as just a pair of legs, prompting the brothers to set off on a quest to find a second gemstone to complete the spell and finally meet and say goodbye to their father before the sunsets.
So, dressing the trousers up Weekend at Bernie’s style with a puffy jacket floppy torso and sunglasses, the pair hit the road (Ian wants to take the shortest route, Barley the path of peril) as the film unfolds into an episodic quest adventure, Bronco and mom in pursuit, that variously involves a run in with a biker gang of tiny flightless pixies, the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), the fabled lion-scorpion-bat warrior whose titular tavern is now a cheesy themed fast food joint that contains the map to the gem’s location (she and mom teaming up as a formidable double act to get to the boys before they unwittingly unleash the curse) and a somewhat rushed climax that pits everyone against a giant rock dragon made up of the town’s demolished school. There’s some delightful moments en route, including a dance scene between brothers and dad’s legs and disguise cloak that only works if the wearer tells the truth (making for an awkward brotherly moment), as Ian learns to become more confident and eventually realise the strength of his relationship with Barley who’s essentially tried to be the dad he never had. It’s not Up, but it’s definitely facing the right direction. 102 mins (Disney +)
Sonic The Hedgehog (PG)
Surprisingly not the disaster that was anticipated, especially given it had to go back to the drawing board and redesign the look of its titular Sega character after fans were up in arms, this is the latest video game to become a live-action feature film, and, mercifully, much better than the abject failure that was Super Mario Bros.
After a cursory back story explaining who this furry blue alien speedball is and why he’s on earth, director Jeff Fowler gets on with the film’s two narratives, the mismatched buddy one as the lonely Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwarz) accidentally causes a major power outage across the entire Pacific Northwest that sees him teaming up with Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the sheriff in the small town of Green Hills who wants to move to San Francisco so he can get to save somebody’s life and who, dubbed the Do-Nut Lord, Sonic has been secretly stalking (along with Tom’s veterinarian wife, an underused Tika Sumpter) in order to feel part of a surrogate family. The second is, of course, the pursuit of the hero by the crazy megalomaniac bad guy, here in the form of cyber-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey in, for once, enjoyably vintage over the top form with black coat and waxed panto villain moustache) and his drones, sent in by the military to capture the alien source.
All of which, after Tom pops Sonic with a tranquilizer dart that causes his bag of transporter rings to fall through a portal, means they have to head for San Francisco and recover them, Robotnik on their tail, bonding while checking off Sonic’s bucket list, which includes starting a bar fight with a bunch of bikers.
Lighthearted and hugely enjoyable, it romps along with some pretty decent visual effects and a constant stream of rapid fire quips from Sonic along with amusing in-jokes like him watching Speed on TV and reading Flash comics, as well as a message about the need for human contact. With a coda that promises a sequel that seems likely (and welcomingly) to happen, this may not be supersonic but it’s infinitely more fun than anyone could possibly have imagined. 99 mins (Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms)
Trolls World Tour (U)
The sequel to the surprisingly fun 2016 hit, this brings back Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake as Queen Poppy and her best friend Branch who saved the Pop trolls world in the first film and now find themselves having to do it again. Except this time, it’s not just Pop world.
As Poppy’s dad reveals, they’re not the only trolls. In fact, there were once six tribes, all of whom had a different type of music, pop, country, techno, funk, classical, and rock (with apparently sub-tribes involving yodeling and K-pop trolls) who lived together until they began to argue about which music was better, leading to them all being split up and confined to their own lands, each with the string embodying their music from the universal guitar, their new generations unaware of the others’ existence.
But now, however, Queen Barb by Rachel Bloom from the Rock trolls is determined to reunite them all under one music – Hard Rock! But to do this, she needs to eliminate all other musical forms, starting with an invasion of the Techno trolls’ underwater rave party.
What follows is a sort of sugar rush on steroids with explosions of swirling and pulsating colour, psychedelic musical sequences and a virtual non-stop jukebox of familiar songs, from Girls Just Want To Have Fun to The Scorpions’ Rock You Like a Hurricane and Daft Punk’s One More Time. Also back on board among the voice cast is James Corden as Biggie with his pet worm Mr. Dinkles, Gwen Stefani as DJ Suki and Ron Funches as Cooper, the pink, green-capped giraffe-like troll who discovers just why he’s always felt a bit different to the other Pop trolls, while joining them are Kelly Clarkson as the Country trolls leader Delta Dawn (a joke country fans will get), Sam Rockwell as Country troll named Hickory, Jamie Dornan as a Smooth Jazz troll, called what else but Chas, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige as King Quincy and Queen Essence from the Funk trolls, Kenan Thompson as Tiny Diamond, the newborn hip-hop son of glittery Guy, and, inevitably, Ozzy Osbourne as Thrash, one of the Rock trolls.
Naturally, amid all of this, there’s a message about diversity, acceptance and inclusion being important (here, through music) if we want to live together as well as finding our inner happiness. Grown-ups might find it a bit of a headache to watch, but, in these days of gloom and isolation, realising that music can bring us all together has to be worth a watch. 90 mins (Amazon Prime and other on demand services)
Not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.